Tunlaw Farm


Possibly as early as 1819, and certainly by 1826, to judge from his son’s age, Alexander Burrows farmed 96 acres that were out of John Threlkeld’s tract Alliance. Those 96 acres are now called Wesley Heights.



John Threlkeld, having been indebted for some time to [his tenant?] Alexander Burrows, makes over to him, as security for the debt of four hundred dollars, a “dark yellow” woman named Jenny, together with her children. (DC Liber WB11 (1824), f.7/5)

Since the deed recites that Jenny was already part of the Burrows household, it is possible that she had been “hired out” to him. The four hundred dollars must have been repaid, as the census record does not show that Alexander Burrows was ever a slave owner. It is possible, however, that John Burrows was a slaveowner: “Baptized Eliza born the 1 of March 1816 of Marge a servant of John Burrows, living near Tenly Town. Godfather Joseph Brigdon, Godmother Mary Bateman”. (Marriage Register, Holy Trinity Church, Georgetown D.C., February 9, 1817)

The Bank of Columbia, of which John Threlkeld was a director, failed in 1826. To satisfy Threlkeld’s creditors Alliance, consisting of 296 acres, was sold at auction to the Bank of the United States. Alexander Burrows came away with about a third of it. (DC Liber WB20 (1828) f.480; Clement Smith to Burrows; DC Liber WB53 (1835) f. 362/271, re 96 acres, which records the final sale).

“Died on Sunday last at Burleith, residence of John Threlkeld, Elizabeth R. Threlkeld, in her 16th year, eight days after her mother.” (National Intelligencer, August 31, 1826)

The fact that the Burrows house was the scene of John Threlkeld’s sale of 24 slaves––many of whom had been slaves of Threlkeld’s wife and daughter, now both deceased––makes it seem likely that Burrows worked for Threlkeld, and that Threlkeld’s slaves lived and worked, at or near the Burrows farm.


Marshall’s sale, Circuit Court of Washington County, DC:

24 slaves, also mules and carts, etc. Goods and chattels seized and taken as property of John Threlkeld, to be sold to satisfy a debt due by him to the Bank of the United States. Sale at the dwelling of Alexander Burrows. -Tench Ringgold, Marshall

Slaves listed for sale: Charity, Fanny, Sandy, Jerry, Nace, Henry, Jem, Bill, Anne, Lucy; Nancy and her children George, Penn, Mary, Francis, Henry; Flora and her children Robert, Jos, Fanny, Mary, Jane, Patty, Betsy, Harry.

(National Intelligencer, December 24, 1827)



Alexander (his “X” mark) Burrus is recorded as a witness, DC Probate Records 3 May 1843, when John Burrus, of the County of Washington, leaves property to his son Samuel Burrus.

Samuel Burrows is mentioned in Helms’s Tenleytown, and lived at about 45th and Fessenden in 1858. It is likely Alexander was related to John, and therefore to Samuel, etc., so all the Alexander Burrows bills and receipts dating from 1820, at the Peabody Room, Georgetown Library, probably belong to one family. A Samuel Burrows, born circa 1826, was living in Alexander Burrows’ household in 1850.

Elizabeth Burrows petitioned the Circuit Court of DC, 17 January, 1844, regarding the Georgetown Powder Magazine. The object of her petition was at about Fulton Street and Tunlaw Road, contiguous to Alexander Burrows farm. It is likely Elizabeth was related to Alexander, possibly his wife.

Alexander’s 1850 census entry shows him at age 62, farmer, born Maryland, with $3000 worth of land. A likely son, Samuel, age 24, was born in Washington County.

Alexander’s 1855 county assessment lists: 100 acres, 1 horse. The 1860 census shows Alexander Burrows, age 75, Farmer, land worth $5000, personal $300, born Maryland, illiterate.

In his house is a possible daughter-in-law, Mary, age 36, born DC circa 1824. Mary has 4 children with her: Elizabeth, 13; Joseph, 12; Margaret, 9; James, 6. One or two children may be grown up.

Trinity Church Death Register, p.110: Burroughs, Alander, March 1862, age 85.

When Alexander Burrows died in 1862, the property was auctioned according to his wishes, and bought by two Georgetown merchants, Esau and Adolphus Pickrell (DC Liber JAS222 (17 July, 1862) f.87/79). This deed recites that Alexander Burrows died leaving a will, that his property was part of Alliance, on east side of road that leads from the Ridge road to John Mason’s foundry north to the private road of Clement Smith adjoining Nathan Luffboro: consisting of 96 acres, with improvements, which were bought by Burrows of Clement Smith June 20, 1835 (DC Liber WB54 ff.362-4); to be sold at auction; $4949 paid.



Tunlaw Farm


Adolphus Pickrell’s son-in-law, Thomas L. Hume, used the old Burrows farm as a country house, and a social item in the newspaper lets us know the playful name by which it ––and they––were known: “Col. Robert Ould is entertained by the “Tunlaws” at their retreat on the Heights.” (Georgetown Courier, July 6,1867)

“For the information of those who are ignorant of the location of this peculiarly named country seat it may be as well to state that “Tunlaw Farm” is the country home of Mr. Pickerell, of Georgetown, and Mr. Thomas L. Hume, of Washington. Mr. Hume annually entertains his friends there, and the day selected is the 4th of July.” (Star, July 5, 1873)


Tunlaw Farm Greenhouses, Office, 807 Market Space, Washington, D.C.

Select BEDDING PLANTS, at 60, 75c. and $1 per dozen. Fine mixed GLADIOLUS, at 60 and 75 cents per dozen.

(Star May 8, 1880)


Adolphus H. Pickrell died in 1879 (Star, May 3, 1879). In 1881, the year Thomas L. Hume died  (National Republican, October 24, 1881, p.1), a real estate map ascribed more than 100 acres of Tunlaw farm to the estate of Hume’s father-in-law; by 1884, nearly all of it is marked “A. Pickrell”.

The farm house burned down in 1887: “Once the property of A.H. Pickrell… country seat of his son-in-law the late T.L. Hume… where he used to entertain his friends in royal style… rented to Dr. Green and Samuel Schaeffer, of the Navy, and their families… thirteen room house… probably a chimney fire… contents lost worth $3000… house worth $5000, only insured for $2000… property bought before the war from Sandy Burrows… the name is “walnut,” spelled backward”. (“Fire Destroys Residence at Tunlaw Farm”, Star, September 1, 1887)

To judge by the 1903 Baist map (below), the ruins of the farm house may have stood at about 3005 45th Street. Of other outbuildings a spring house still survives behind 4530 Klingle Street (thanks to Courtney Ward for this information).

The prominent walnut tree that gave rise to the name Tunlaw Farm was cut down in 1916, and sold to an agent of the British government, to be turned into gunstocks for the British army. The land syndicate that now owned Wesley Heights received $120 for it. The celebrated tree was reported to have stood about 300 yards south of the main building of American University (Hurst Hall), and to have been 900 years old!  (Capital Loses Walnut Needed at the Front––Famous Old Tunlaw Tree, Near American University, Will Be Used for Gunstocks for British Army “Somewhere in France”, Washington Times, March 23, 1916, p.5)



Wesley Heights

The Pickrell tract, between Chain Bridge Road and 43rd Street, from Fulton Street up to Newark Street, was purchased by real estate auctioneer John F. Waggaman––financed by Charles Glover. Waggaman subdivided it as Wesley Heights in 1890, and built five houses: NW corner of Ridge Road and Lowell Street; SW corner of Ridge and Loughborough Road;  NW corner of Klingle and 45th Streets; NW of Cathedral Avenue and Tunlaw Road; and on the triangle between Tunlaw Road and Hawthorne and 43rd Streets.  Two more were built by lot owners on the east side of 45th Street between Lowell  and Macomb Streets; and on the west side of Tunlaw Road between Hawthorne and Garfield Streets.  (Gustavus A. Weber, “A Short History of Wesley Heights”, The Leaves of Wesley Heights, April 1930)

Waggaman and Glover clearly intended the name of the new suburb to be associated with the “New Methodist University” to its north that is now American University. Glover, who had been instrumental in acquiring the university site, was the treasurer of its board.

(Sunday Herald and Weekly National Intelligencer, September 14, 1890, p.10; William Edwin Ross, A Methodist Experiment in Graduate Education: John Fletcher Hurst and the Founding of The American University, 1889-1914 (Ph.D. diss., American University, 1992)



“Wesley Heights, adjoining new Methodist University” Washington, D.C. : Howell & Greenough, 1890 (Library of Congress).




Washington Post, May 17, 1891, pg. 6

Washington Post, May 17, 1891, pg. 6


Waggaman built 3115 Foxhall Road in 1891; 3111 Foxhall Road was built in 1892. Development came to a standstill in the financial depression of 1893. Annie G. Hume, widow of Thomas L. Hume, died December 17, 1895. Mary E. Pickrell, wife and heir of Adolphus H. Pickrell, died November 12, 1897.


Suit Against Waggaman: Bankrupt Defendant in Proceedings to Foreclose Trust Deed. Court Authorizes Employment of Expert Accountants to Examine Books of Real Estate Dealer. (Washington Post, Jan 7, 1905)



The subdivision of Wesley Heights, with its earlier street names. The Tunlaw farmhouse can be seen east of 45th Street, between Hartford and Joliet Streets––now Hawthorne Street and Cathedral Avenue––with various outbuildings north of it. (Baist Real Estate Atlas of Washington, 1903, plate 20)

The subdivision of Wesley Heights, with its earlier street names. The Tunlaw farmhouse can be seen east of 45th Street, between Hartford and Joliet Streets––now Hawthorne Street and Cathedral Avenue––with various outbuildings north of it. (Baist Real Estate Atlas of Washington, 1903, plate 20)


Residence of Frank L. Wagner, Wesley Heights, D.C. (3111 Foxhall Road NW), Willard R. Ross Postcard Collection, District of Columbia Public Library


Residence of John B. Hammond, Wesley Heights, D.C. (3115 Foxhall Road NW), Willard R. Ross Postcard Collection, District of Columbia Public Library.



Northern Wesley Heights, Army Air Corps Aerial composite photograph, 1922.


Southern Wesley Heights, 1922.



An outbuilding of the farm, in the bed of 45th Street NW, just north of Jewett Street/Cathedral Avenue.  (Baist Real Estate Map of Washington, 1921)



Who Named Tunlaw Farm?


The earliest appearance in print of the name:  “Col. Robert Ould is entertained by the “Tunlaws” at their retreat on the Heights.” (Georgetown Courier, July 6, 1867.)

The following year the editor of the Georgetown Courier, extolling the virtues of the “Tunlaw Club Cigar”, the editor went on to promote its namesake: “A delightful spot on the Heights, the property of one of our well-known merchants, has been rendered famous by the versatile genius of the leading spirit of the Club, who christened it Tunlaw, where many pleasant hours have been passed by the members, and the introduction of this excellent brand of Cigars will doubtless prove quite acceptable as commemorative of the place.” (Georgetown Courier, August 8, 1868)

A few years later the editor of the Courier clarified: the owner of Tunlaw farm was Adolphus Pickrell, and the versatile genius who christened it was his son-in-law, Thomas L. Hume. “For the information of those who are ignorant of the location of this peculiarly named country seat it may be as well to state that “Tunlaw Farm” is the country home of Mr. Pickerell, of Georgetown, and Mr. Thomas L. Hume, of Washington. Mr. Hume annually entertains his friends there, and the day selected is the 4th of July.” (Star, July 5, 1873)

Some forty years after the events someone mentioned Ulysses Grant into the tale: “The house and farm went unnamed until one day in the summer of 1875 when General Grant, General Sherman, a number of Congressmen and prominent Washingtonians were seated beneath the tree with their hosts. The question of a name was discussed, and finally, an ingenious member of the party suggested Tunlaw, which spells walnut backward. It was adopted.” (Washington Times, March 23, 1916, p.5)

Eighty years after the events, when “The Rambler” asked his readers to explain the origin of the name, most of the replies were playful, and not intended to be taken seriously: “Tunlaw Road was named by someone walking up Walnut street backwards”. But two readers knew of the connection to a Mr. Hume, and one of them had read something about the origin of the name: “One day when Gen. Grant, who was a friend of his, was there, Mr. Hume said he couldn’t think of a name for the place. Gen. Grant looked around and noticing the walnut trees said: ‘Why not turn walnut around and call it Tunlaw?'”  (“The Rambler”, Star, February 7, 1957)

The following week Thomas L. Hume’s grandson wrote to point out that the farm had its name before Grant was a guest. It did no good, and in 1977, Grant was still being dragged into the story: “Hume is thought to have called the farm Tunlaw––walnut spelled backwards––at the suggestion of President Grant; a huge walnut tree was the farm’s striking feature.” (“The Rambler”, Star, February 13, 1957; The City of Washington: An Illustrated History, 1977, p.290)



The Fourth of July at Tunlaw Farm


“For the information of those who are ignorant of the location of this peculiarly named country seat it may be as well to state that “Tunlaw Farm” is the country home of Mr. Pickerell, of Georgetown, and Mr. Thomas L. Hume, of Washington. Mr. Hume annually entertains his friends there, and the day selected is the 4th of July.On these occasions at “Tunlaw” Independence reigns supreme. The guests are made to feel at home by the hearty hospitality of Mr. Hume, and many amusements are prepared for their enjoyment. To lose any part of the day at “Tunlaw” is ever to be regretted, and some of the shrewd and knowing ones arrived at the scene the night before the fourth, while others, more bashful, drove up in time for breakfast. Ten o’clock yesterday morning found the complement of guests under the ancient walnut tree, which makes the farm famous around the country, and which yesterday spread its hospitable branches over a very happy party. Among the guests were Governor Cooke, Judge M[a]cArthur, Mr. Richard  Harrington, Mr. N.B. Fugit, Henry Dodge, A.M. Clapp, [Maud?] Kellinger, John F. Ennis, and numerous others of Mr. H’s patriotic friends.He catered most successfully to the tastes of his guests in the way of amusement––there being cards, quoits, and a variety of other enjoyable attractions. Messrs. Seligson, Bradley, Ball, Fugit, Davis and Jones blended their voices in some very grateful harmonies, and added no little to the day’s pleasure. The genius of the day, Mr. Kellinger, convulsed the assembly during his evidence given in the mock trial, which was presided over by his honor Judge MacArthur, Mr. Harrington being the prosecuting attorney and Governor Cooke foreman of the jury. Owing to the shrewdness of Mr. Ennis, the defendant’s counsel, Mr. Boarman, of the Bank of Washington, was saved an ignominious verdict at the hands of the jury. The table provided by the host was ladened with the delicacies of the season, and was kept ready for the wants of the guests continually through the day. Toasts were interchanged, and many amusing speeches were made in response. It was a late hour before the last guest could make up his mind to leave the lovely grove, and the  unanimous verdict of the guests was that to celebrate the Fourth rationally and gloriously, it must be spent with Mr. Hume at Tunlaw, (Walnut.)”

(“The Glorious Fourth at Tunlaw”,  Star, July 5, 1873)


“At Tunlaw Heights.––As has been the custom of Mr. Thomas L. Hume for the past thirteen years, he entertained a large party of his friends on the Fourth at “Tunlaw”, his farm, just beyond the range of the classic ridge known as Georgetown Heights. At an early hour, in response to the following invitation, quite a large party were assembled:

Washington, D.C., June 19, 1874;  Mr._______:  You are respectfully invited to spend the Fourth of July under the shades of “Tunlaw Farm” with a few mutual friends. Nine o’clock A.M.  Thomas L. Hume.  Please signify your acceptance.”

“After social converse and other enjoyments, at 3 P.M. the signal for dinner assembled the party around the long tables, which fairly groaned with the results of the culinary art”. Governor Shepherd proposed the health of “a gentleman well known to us all, and one who by his benevolence and friendship has added to our enjoyment for many Fourth of July past as well as the present. I need not say that I refer to our host, Thomas L. Hume.” Hume acknowledged the applause of his guests, extending a “genuine Tunlaw welcome”, and then proposed a toast to “a distinguished citizen present, whom we all delight to honor, General William T. Sherman, General of the Army of the United States. [Applause.] General Sherman rose to reply, and was received with three cheers and a ‘tiger’”. After Sherman’s remarks concluded, Cooke introduced one of the new District Commissioners, William Dennison, who addressed the gathering. Mr. Hume proposed a toast to Ex-Governor Alexander Shepherd, who was also given “three cheers and a tiger” and spoke “with much feeling”.  The general theme of the speeches was reassurance to Washington’s businessmen, that the capital of the United States would stay in Washington, and that progress achieved under Governors Cooke and Shepherd would not be lost under Commissioner Dennison.

(“The Glorious Fourth, How The Day Was Celebrated”, Chronicle, July 6, 1874)


“A large party of friends will be entertained by Mr. Thomas L. Hume. This will be a gathering of congenial spirits and gentlemen of unbounded patriotism. The day will be consumed in pouring out suitable libations to the protecting deities of our country, in singing national songs and in making eloquent speeches. Besides this a splendid Banquet will add much to the pleasures of the day.”

(National Republican, July 3, 1875)


“Our public spirited and large hearted fellow citizen, Thomas L. Hume, esq., gave yesterday his fifth annual Fourth-of-July entertainment at his country seat near Tenallytown.” It was reported that Hume provided two hundred guests with “a perpetual lunch for all, (with liquid attachments embracing wines, brandies, whiskies, mixed drinks, and plain lemonade,) cigars for all, and towards evening a dinner, which was not only ample but excellent. The first thing to do on arriving was to take a cool drink out of that great bowl – filled with a cheering concoction known as “Tunlaw punch,” the secret of compounding which ambrosial fluid is known only to the host.” There is no mention of women or children at these patriotic gatherings.

(“The Day At Tunlaw”, Star, July 5, 1875)


“Under the shades of Tunlaw farm, the country residence of Mr. T. L. Hume, his friends, to the number of two hundred, assembled as per invitation, and spent the day as guests of the proprietor. The ordinary amusements of such parties were resorted to with success, and in the afternoon a splendid feast was served. This dinner was supplemented by the bubbling out of the patriotism of the parties which had been kept bottled up all day. It took shape of speeches by Joseph H Bradley, esq.; Hon. C.A. Eldridge, Colonel Ward H. Lamon. A. R. Shepherd, esq., and others, and songs by the Tunlaw glee club. This was the fifth Fourth of July reunion given at Tunlaw, and the universal wish of the guests as they departed was, “May there be a sixth reunion, and may we be here to enjoy it.”

(National Republican, July 7, 1875)


The Tunlaw Farm Photo



A Fourth of July at Tunlaw Farm (detail): seated, from the right: first, William Dennison; fourth, Alexander Shepherd; sixth, Henry D. Cooke; seventh, William T. Sherman. The seated man with the white beard, at the far left, has been said to be Ulysses Grant, but the identification is questionable. (The City of Washington: An Illustrated History, 1977, p.290)


The City of Washington: An Illustrated History (1977) shows a photograph of a party gathered at Tunlaw farm, and the caption gives the date as July 5, 1875. It is, however, more likely the photograph was taken a year earlier, when General Sherman, Governors Cooke and Shepherd, and District Commissioner William Dennison––who can all be identified in the photograph––were reported in the press to have attended Thomas Hume’s Fourth of July festivities.  (“The Glorious Fourth, How The Day Was Celebrated”, Chronicle, July 6, 1874; “The Fourth at Tunlaw”, Star, July 6, 1874; “Independence Day.––At Tunlaw”, National Republican, July 3, 1875; “The Day At Tunlaw”, Star, July 5, 1875; National Republican, July 7, 1875)

The same caption in The City of Washington also identifies one of the men in the picture as President Grant. This identification has two problems: neither the news accounts of 1874, nor those of 1875, mention the presence of the President; and Grant’s movements on those holidays are known to have been out of Washington: on July 4, 1874, Grant was en route to the “President’s Cottage” at Long Branch, New Jersey; and on July 4, 1875, President Grant visited Heightstown, N.J., and then returned to Long Branch.


“What the Presidents Did On the Fourth of July”, James R. Heintze, American University: http://www1.american.edu/heintze/FourthPres.htm

The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, Ulysses S. Grant Association (John Y. Simon, editor); a chronology extracted from The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant is available at: http://library.msstate.edu/usgrant/chronology.asp



Carlton Fletcher

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